Monday, December 29, 2008

Mr. Kowalski's Neighborhood

In Gran Torino, Clint Eastwood plays a grizzled old man named Walt Kowalski. A Korean War veteran, Walt is one of those Midwestern guys so set in his ways and his beliefs that the slightest deviation sets him off. He's intolerant of others who aren't like him, insulting to every race, and he doesn't have much incentive to change his ways. He's Archie Bunker without the laugh track. To paraphrase someone else's metaphor, he's John McCain in a Barack Obama world. So as you might assume, Walt's not taking too kindly to the Hmong people who have moved next door (and throughout his neighborhood) and who are disrupting his status quo.

You'd think from this description (and the fact that Eastwood also directed) that Gran Torino would be an interesting character study of how Walt gets to know his neighbors and forges a new late-in-life identity that's a bit more accepting. Unfortunately, it's not that good. As Walt, Eastwood gives a mostly one-note performance that turns lines like "Get off my lawn!" into the kind of snicker-inducing dialogue that also (unfortunately) fated lines like "I drink your milkshake" and "I wish I knew how to quit you." After a half hour of Walt's closed-mindedness, you can't help but laugh whenever he opens up his mouth and spouts his matter-of-fact racial insults. As you might expect, this undercuts the dramatic tension and stifles your emotional investment in Walt's growth. And therein lies the problem with Gran Torino. It's hard to root for Walt when he's such a laughable caricature.

As a bonus for sitting through the entire two hours of the movie, you're rewarded with Jamie Cullum's beautiful performance of the title song (which he co-wrote with Eastwood). Can't wait to see Jamie performing it on the Oscars, since it's sure to be nominated for Best Original Song. For me, this was the best part of the movie. And that's why I'm only giving Gran Torino a B–.

(yes, that's the inevitable John McCain parody right there)

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Blogger Nicole P. said...

Do you remember the movie The Burbs. I can't help thinking of that movie whenever I hear, "Get off my lawn," picturing Rumsfield in his bathrobe and camo boxer shorts.

December 30, 2008 9:59 PM  

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